How not to “shop around” for a divorce lawyer.

By Edward Jurkiewicz
In March 28, 2015
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“My mama told me/ You’d better shop around”-    Smokey Robinson/Berry Gordy (1960)

Divorce is a watershed event in anyone’s life, and the final judgment may have a huge effect on your finances and interpersonal relationships for a long time. So, it is natural and makes a lot of common sense to find the best legal representation possible.

To address this, when seeking a divorce lawyer, some people interview lots of lawyers. I think this phenomenon is spurred on by a kind of rampant consumerism, which is evident all over the web. When a potential client asks me how many divorce cases I’ve won (a completely meaningless question in divorce law), I have a pretty good idea where the question came from (it wasn’t the American Bar Association).

The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Let me be clear: it’s very important to hire the right lawyer for your divorce representation. But interviewing many lawyers is,  at best, a poor use of time. In some cases, it can lead you unwittingly into the clutches of one of the (relatively few) charlatans in my profession.

Here are a few of “facts of life” every potential divorce client should know, which many consumer-oriented websites (and, unfortunately,  many lawyers) will not tell you.

1-) It’s a mistake to base your hiring decision on which lawyer offers you the cheapest retainer.

We all structure our compensation the same way. Lawyers generally charge an hourly rate, and keep track of the time they spend on your case using “real time” practice management software. The initial retainer represents an advance payment against a certain portion of the time that will be incurred. If less time is actually used, you get a refund. If more time is incurred, you get a bill. Regardless of what you want to believe, or of what anyone tells you, no one knows in advance exactly how much time will be necessary to resolve your case, including the lawyer.

My retainer quote is usually based on my estimate of the minimum time I think it will take to resolve a particular case, keeping in mind that even complex cases are usually resolved short of trial, and “simple” cases usually have at least one or two issues to work out. This is based on my experience in similar cases, but I don’t have a crystal ball. A high level of interpersonal conflict is probably the biggest factor that will increase your cost, no matter who you hire.

Anyone can low-ball a retainer quote to get you in the door, and anyone can throw fuel on the fires that are inevitably burning, to some degree, in every divorce case, thereby increasing conflict and padding billable time. So, the retainer quote has absolutely zero relevance to the amount you will pay in the long run.

What is really important (and not just from the standpoint of money), is whether the lawyer you are considering hiring is focused on resolving the important issues in your case, and is sophisticated and experienced enough to achieve that result as efficiently as possible.

2-) It’s a mistake to shop until you find the lawyer who tells you exactly what you want to hear.

That lawyer will disappoint you bitterly in the end. Your focus should be on hiring the lawyer who gives you the most knowledgeable assessment of your case, pros and cons, without sugar-coated promises. And, if you are hearing things like: “we eat punks like that for breakfast…”, run…fast.

Although experience and finesse are important in obtaining the best resolution of your case, the law is the same, no matter who you hire.

3-) Forget the “cult of personality”.

We all know how to present a case to the court, and try the case if necessary. I have had a few “Perry Mason moments”, where I have elicited explosive admissions of previously unknown facts from a hostile witness. But if you think that happens often, or that most divorce cases are resolved in so dramatic a fashion, you’ve been watching too much TV! There are of course, varying skill sets relating to negotiation and trial practice. To really be able to assess that, though, you would need a law school education and significant courtroom experience of your own. So, how does one assess competence?

First, eliminate the negatives. Contrary to popular belief, flamboyance is meaningless. And, hiring a loudmouth who projects an air of intimidation (yes, there are a few) will actually work against you. Second, re-read the second sentence under #2, above.

For more information about divorce law, please visit my website at, or call (860) 299-6263 to schedule an appointment with a Litchfield County/Hartford County divorce attorney.

Hartford area bankruptcy attorney and divorce lawyer Edward P. Jurkiewicz has over 20 years of experience representing clients. Our firm represents debtors and creditors and handles both relatively simple divorces and bankruptcies and more complex litigation matters. With this depth of experience, our firm is able to anticipate and prepare for any potential issues that could arise in your bankruptcy, divorce or family matter.

CONTACT US TODAY AT 860-299-6263